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Spring Fest ’14

Today I went to Spring Fest, a celebration of sustainability month on campus. Various student groups set up booths with information about their sustainability efforts on campus and activities for students to learn about current sustainability issues. There were also animals to pet, windmills to spin, and punch cards you could complete for prizes. All in all, it was a really great event for such a sunny day like today.

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I was also fortunate enough to have both Mikey the Panda and Bugsy the Ladybug with me today, so I took some video footage of them hanging out at Spring Fest to share with my younger sister. For those of you who want to know what you missed, I’ve included that video in this post for you to see what the fuss was all about. Check out the video by clicking here or viewing the embedded video below:

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Catching The Base

A lot was going on today on campus. Between Spring Fest, Truss Days, a 161 Block Party, and students protests, I’ve got enough footage to bring you guys at least three more posts (aside from this one, of course) for this week alone!

I thought the best way to start would be with video I made highlighting a performance by four members of Base Productions, a co-ed student dance group at Cornell. They did a good job and were even nice enough to pose with Mikey and Bugsy after their performance. So if you want to see what a little bit of sunshine can bring out of Ithaca, take a look by clicking here or clicking the Youtube link below!

Easter at Cornell

Last Sunday was Easter and, unlike most holidays during the academic year, my roommate and I found the holiday spirit on campus lacking. The only evidence we could find of celebrations on campus were the small congregations of students at Sage Chapel and other religious institutions early Sunday morning. Granted, Easter is a religious holiday and so I can chalk a lot of this phenomenon up to that facet alone; many students may not want to celebrate Easter if they’re not particularly religious, and many others may see going to church as enough of a celebration for this particular holiday.

However, my roommate and I both agreed that the mood on campus still felt off. Back home, the both of us used to enjoy day-long festivities for Easter with our families and friends, including Easter egg hunts, warm meals, and dancing. None of those activities are traditional to the religious celebration of Easter; it was just something our families did because we saw Easter as a celebratory holiday in addition to a religious one. It’s sort of like Christmas. On the one hand, Christmas is a religious holiday and many families go to mass in order to respect that religious tradition. On the other, however, many families also buy presents for children, eat food, and party on that day. That same duality was once attributed to Easter, but my roommate and I just weren’t feeling it this year. What happened?

Feeling the absence of that familiar Easter buzz, I decided that I would stage a surprise Easter egg hunt for roommate. Since Easter egg hunts were a part of both of our childhoods, I thought it would be a fun activity for the both of us and that it would help us get over some of our mutual home-sickness. It turned out to be really fun, and it was also a really easy event to plan. I’m glad we did it, and my only regret was that I didn’t convince more of my friends to get involved and cover more than just the 5th floor of Sheldon Court.

So, if you’re interested in seeing how our Easter egg hunt panned out (or if you just want to grab sneak peeks at what Sheldon Court looks like on the inside), click here to watch a video of our wacky adventure. Originally, I made the video above to share with my sister back home, but I think it could be enjoyable to others as well. Let me know what you think, and tell me what you did for Easter this year!

All Work, No Play

This week, I volunteered to be the light board and sound board operator for The Schwartz Center’s Mini-Locally Grown Dance Festival. It has been an very interesting experience so far. I’ve learned a lot about the mechanics behind lighting and sound design, as well as their execution. I also get some extra credit in my PMA 2600 in exchange for my work, so it’s most certainly a win-win! 😀

It is odd, however, to watch the show from off the stage. Just a few semester ago, I was routinely dancing in this show as part of my dance composition classes. As the board operator, I am now seeing a whole new side of the show and, while the experience is definitely enlightening and rewarding, it is reminding me how much I enjoyed performing. Or, at the very least, creating…

If there is one aspect of my life at Cornell right now which I wish I could change, then it would be the amount of time I could devote to creative exploits. From dancing to drawing to writing–I’ve put a lot on the sidelines in order to focus on academics, internship applications, and other seemingly practical endeavors. I used to be able to balance all these activities relatively well in the past, but the consequence was being very burnt out by the end of the semester. Now I feel restless and a lack of work-life balance is rearing its head again.

So what can I do?

*shrug*

A lot of times on this blog, I highlight the clubs and events which regularly convene on campus and encourage others to seek them out as a form of relaxation from academics. However, what can one do here that doesn’t require the same time commitment a club demands but is more routine than a single event?

Well, I can always go back to devoting a few hours each day to those hobbies I love–dancing, writing, filming, etc.. It’s never not going to be a struggle to balance work and play as a Cornell student, but I can tweak the proportion of time I spend on each segment. I’ll have to compromise between the benefits of work and the benefits of play. So, I’ll let you all know what happens. Hopefully I can get the proportion right this time. 🙂

Choosing Meal Plans

On my Kitchen Disasters post, I got an interesting question from one of my readers and a prospective student:

What’s the best dining plan to get? I’d rather only pay for the cheapest one, but if you do that you don’t get a lot of meals in dining halls per week and so how are you supposed to be able to eat three meals a day? Is it worth it to do your own cooking in addition to whatever meal plan you get? How does everyone manage this? “

I started to answer in a comment…and then it blew up into the post you see below. The short answer, of course, is:

The best meal plan for you will depend on your financial budget, academic schedule, and desire for convenience.”

But that is so incredibly vague and unhelpful that even I knew I couldn’t leave at just that. So, here is a little more about my experience with meal plans, and hopefully that will help you figure out what decisions to make regarding yours. Here we go!

 

As a Freshman, I purchased the cheapest meal plan and still ate three meals a day. I used BRBs and cash to purchase lunches and dinners, while eating breakfasts at dining halls. I found that this plan was most convenient for my schedule; the dining halls’ hours and locations made it hard for me to get to the dining halls in between classes in time for lunch or dinner. However, since most dining halls are located on North campus (where all the Freshman dorms are situated), it was incredibly convenient to grab breakfast there before heading out to central campus for classes. If I had bought the more expensive plan, then I would have wasted money on meals I could not redeem given my schedule. Plus, it was much easier to add BRBs to my meal account or to acquire extra cash when needed than to quickly use up meal swipes before they expired (no rollover benefits here). I was also more than willing to trade up the buffets for quick to-go meals or home-cooked goodness since I already ate small portions.

Given its flexibility, I always recommend taking the cheapest meal plan and purchasing the rest of your weekly meals with cash. You can buy from more places and change up where you eat more easily than otherwise. The downsides would include having to pay more out-of-pocket each time you want to enter a dining hall beyond the number of times included in your plan, since prices for non-meal plan customers are slightly higher. However, I find that students who live on West Campus or who spend a lot of time back in their dorm rooms on North are far more likely to encounter this problem than people living in Collegetown (like me), people who live off-campus, or Freshman who live on North Campus but spend most of their times at classes, work, or the like. For your first semester, you may find that going with a more expensive plan will be helpful and then choose to down-grade to a lower plan once you have a better idea of what you prefer. Talk with your family about what you can afford and be realistic about what lifestyle you expect to maintain on campus. It will help you make a better decision.

If you chose the cheapest meal plan, you can then decide to eat on-campus, eat off-campus, or cook to make up the missing meals. I think cooking is an excellent way to fill that need. It is much cheaper than the other alternatives. It allows for greater customization and it’s a great life skill to acquire early in life. However, it can be time-consuming as well. Again, depending on how heavy your coursework is, it might not be the best idea for you. If you are unsure about how difficult your first semester might be, then you might want to reconsider the alternatives or a bigger meal plan.

A quick tip: find other students who are interested in cooking with you. A group of people can share cooking equipment and help each other cook meals in much quicker time frames. You can also make deals with students on expenses; for example, a friend of yours can be in charge of buying and getting the groceries while you plan and make the meals. This tactic is used a lot by students who live off-campus. The downside is you become dependent on your friends and on kitchen space; so make sure they are all reliable and consistently available!

Eating on-campus or off-campus is really easy and convenient because they are just so many different places to eat. It’s more expensive than cooking for yourself, but I think it is actually less expensive than committing to bloated meal plans you don’t fully use. Mixing it together–eating out for lunch, but cooking 2-5 dinners a week–can balance out the cons of both activities. With websites that let you have food and groceries delivered to your dorm, it really is all too easy to get food outside the dining halls on campus.

Keep in mind these few other tips when looking into meal plans:

  1. Pay attention to how long meal plans last and what rolls over. As I mentioned earlier, you can always choose one meal plan for your Freshman year and then switch to a different plan in the future when you have a better sense of what you need. However, you can only change meal plans at the end of the year and only certain items roll over across semester. For example, if you do not eat all the meals you have available in your plan for the week, then they do not roll over to the next week. You lose them, for good, and you don’t get your money back at the end of the semester for whatever you did not eat. BRBs, however, do roll over from the Fall semester into the Spring semester. So if you have $30 at the end of December in BRBs, then that $30 gets added to the new BRBs you acquire through your plan for the Spring. Take that aspect into consideration; it can be stressful feeling as if you need to get meals in in order to make use of your own money.
  2. Where you live can dictate what and where you eat. As a Freshman, you have to get some meal plan. However, if you live in Risley Hall, where there is a dining hall withing your building, you’re probably going to eat there more often than not. If you live in the Townhouses, you may want to cook more (those houses are pretty far away from campus, comparatively…). Check out a map of North Campus and see how convenient dining halls are for where you will be located. Also, go to dining.cornell.edu and get a sense of the dining halls’ offerings; if you don’t like what they typically serve, then you probably won’t want to eat there a lot. After your Freshman year, your housing can once again play a huge role on what plan you get. If you live in dorms on West Campus, then the dorms themselves will require you to purchase a hefty meal plan. However, living in Collegetown dorms like Sheldon give you the option to completely opt-out of a meal plan and live completely on cash or on BRBs. Don’t forget those requirements later on when this question about meal plan strikes again.
  3. Once you get your class schedule, go to dining.cornell.edu and see when the dining halls are open. Great! You secured some free time between 3PM and 3:30PM for lunch every day! One problem: you can’t get to any dining halls in time to get food, sit down, eat, and get back to classes on time. Plus, the ones you love are closed for cleaning during those times! This scenario happens so many times. Make sure you don’t fall prey to it.

I hope that answered some of your questions! If you have any more, leave them in the comments below and I will be sure to answer them. Food is an important subject for me, so I enjoy talking about it on this blog. If you are another reader who wants to add anything about the use of meal plans or the food scene at Cornell, head down to the comment section and add your two cents to the conversation. I really enjoyed writing up a post as an answer to someone’s question. If anyone else has anything to ask about a different, I might consider making another one of these sort of posts. What do you guys think?